Maulana, an endearing name to thousands of his admirers, was born on 10 April 1926 in Andhra Pradesh. His ancestors were all Nagaswara vidvans; no wonder he evinced the interest to take up Nagaswaram. He was trained by Sheik Adam Sahib (of the Chilakaluripeta school, which was a great tradition in Nagaswaram in Andhra Pradesh) and later by Nachiyarkovil Duraikkannu Pillai. Chinnamaulana raga expositions were alluring, diving into the ocean of music, and exploring all its possible splendours. The cascades of his rustling brugas were exemplary and the rendition of krutis was equal to vocal rendering. He was never idle, but always learning new krutis and practising for hours together. He was never satisfied with anything less than perfection and his playing was strictly in tune with 'Sampradaya' and never did he compromise in this respect. Though a Muslim by birth, he maintained 'Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava' and was a devotee of some Hindu Gods, like his ancestors. Awards and titles galore, like 'Sangeeta Kalanidhi' (The Music Academy) came to him. From his native state, Sheik Chinnamaulana migrated to Sreerangam where he started the 'Sarada Nagaswara Sangeeta Asramam' to train aspiring students and many were benefited in this Gurukula. Sheik Chinnamaulana lived in Sreerangam till his death on 13 April 1999.
Namagiripettai K Krishnan
In the past, South India has produced a number of Nagaswaram giants. One such legend was Namagiripettai K Krishnan.
Krishnan was born on 2 April 1924, and belongs to a family of musicians. He learnt his first lesson in vocal music and Nagaswaram from his grandfather Chinnappa Mudaliar. Through vigorous practice for several years, he secured an eminent position in the field of Carnatic music. He also had the privilege of listening to famous masters of yesteryears, like the maestro TN Rajaratnam Pillai.
Krishnan had to his credit a remarkable and glorious concert record extending over five decades. A pure traditionalist, Krishnan was keen on preserving the Nagaswaram Bani. His facile playing of this instrument brings out the full range, depth and melody of the music. This nagaswaram artiste is known for his handling of familiar Ragas in their pristine form. Special mention should be made about his ability in delineating rare Ragas in a short and sweet manner.
In recognition of his outstanding services to the cause of Nagaswaram, he was honoured with the Padmashri. The Tamilnadu Sangeeta Nataka Academy conferred on him the title of 'Kalaimamani' and the Tamil Isai Sangam gave him the title of Isai Perarignar.
Krishnan by nature was very simple humble friendly and highly religions. 'Vidya Dadati Vinayam' is Sanskrit adage and in Krishna one could see this 'Vinayam' in abundant measure.
Nagaswaram is an ancient musical instrument prevalent in Southern India from times immemorial. This double-reed aerophone is presently used in Tamil Nadu, which is said to be the birth region of the instrument, and is also equally familiar in the sister-states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The instrument has twelve holes, seven, bored in the main body for finger-play, and the rest above the bottom part, called 'Anaisu', which is shaped like a bell. In olden days the instrument was made of Sandalwood, Ivory, Blackwood, Rosewood, silver and gold but for the past century or so it is shaped from a wood known as 'Accha' (Diospyros Ebenaster). To play the instrument air is blown through a reed, known as 'Seevali' in the Nagaswara parlance, fitted in a staple in the mouth-hole of the Nagaswaram. This instrument has been an integral part of the socio-religious life of the people a ceremonial instrument central to the rituals of the South Indian temples. Its melodic strains, punctuated by the rhythmic patterns of the Tavil, a membranophone, emanating from the temple courtyards of the South, breaking the silence of the night to brighten the deep, dark labyrinth of sleep and carry the listener into the realms of the sublime. There are two varieties of Nagaswaram : 'Timiri'. The former is similar to the Mukhaveena, but two or three inches longer, and in the present times it has gone into oblivion. The other variety is used in or meant only for rituals in the Tiruvarur temple A third variety evolv years ago pitch - D or D#, which is widely in currency now, under the name 'Nadu Bari (medium type) or 'Madhyama Sruti Nagaswaram". The latter variety is a contribution of the legendary T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai, out of his experiments over the years.
There is a doubt among many whether this instrument is Nagaswaram or Nadaswaram and there was a heated correspondence in the year 1937 on this subject. Dr. V. Raghavan, the emient scholar, said the corrupted word Nadaswaram had gained ground and moved about in the guise of refrom and greater purity. He also cited various passages from ancient Sanskrit Music Literature like 'Sangeeta parijata' (1724 AD) and in the 'Skanda Purana' to prove that Nagaswaram is the correct name. The musicians who assembled at a conference of the Madras Music Academy expressed themselves in favour of the name Nagaswara. 'Nada' is sound pleasing and 'Swara' is the musical note and as such Nadaswara may mean the 'sound of the musical note'. 'Nag a' is the 'cobra' and the very appearance of the instrument or its ancient primeval function was related to snake charmers, whereby the instrument rightly came to be called Nagaswaram. There is another version that it is 'Nagacchinna', which later, corruptedly became as 'Nayanam'. 'Chhinna', a past passive participle means a wind instrument that's all. It may also mean would be a wind instrument that looks like a cobra'. In Arabic and Persian languages, 'Nai' means a wind instrument and some suggest that the usage 'Nayinam' might have come from this. Anyway, it has been decided long back that the correct name of this instrument is 'Nagasara' (as we get from old Kannada literary works)" or 'Nagaswara'.
The music of Nagaswaram is filled with auspiciousness and majesty: Because of this it acquired the honorific, 'Mangala Vadya'. As such, there could be no social activity- Wedding, child's ear-piercing ceremony, Gruhapravesam, new shop opening-be what it may, without the active participation of Nagaswaram. In Tamil Nadu, even Muslims engage Nagaswara troupes for wedding celebrations, though its use is restricted. Similarly, like any Hindu temple, the Dargah Sharif at Nagore also, has a Nagaswara troupe on its pay-roll, for daily service. With the belief that the sound of Nagaswaram wards off all evil and ushers in happiness, it has become indispensable for any auspicious occasion.
The artistes had adopted a code, as to what raga should be played at which sannidhi and also on which festival days. Similarly there was a strict traditional rule that no lyrical composition should be played while the deity is in procession. Varna or Keertana or Kruti or any such composition had no place there. Mallari is a compositional type, with no lyric, which requires the precise renderings of the relatively short-composed melody in different speeds within the constant rhythmic cycle. This should be rendered only in the pentatonic raga, Gambheera nata, as per the nuncupative norms, enunciated by the ancients. Mallari could be compared to a signature tune: people from any distant corner would easily know, as soon as the sound of Mallari reached their ears, that some deity had started its procession. Besides such processions of the deity, short Mallaris are also used while bringing water to bathe the idol or .for the 'Kumbhabhisheka' consecration (Teeratha Mallari) and while bringing the food offering to the deity from the temple kitchen (Taligai Mallari) and so on. Rakti, though it appears to be very short, is a highly technical and improvisational form, based on a particular rhythmic formula. ,It looks like a short pallavi, but has no sahitya (lyric) and gives room for manipulations of terse arithmetic so that often it would tease and deceive even the well-experienced Tavil accompanist. This rare and unique piece has also lost momentum nowadays except in one or two temples. 'Odakooru' (correctly, "Udarkooru') is a piece in Mayamalava Gaula or Nadanamakriya raga and is played on the day of the festival, when the deity is taken in procession, as 'Bhikshatana'. On that festival day, no Mallari or Rakti is rendered and this Odakooru is the only item played right from the beginning, till the deity returns to the temple. This is restricted only to Siva temples. After Mallari, only raga elaboration (specified for each day), followed by Rakti and then the Pallavi (both in the same raga) have any place; and it is only after the deity returned to the Rajagopura that one or two Padams and then Heccharika are played. Brilliant Raja expositions by the talented artistes would go on for many hours, entertaining the devout and adding to their fervour made the listeners enjoy them without any boredom. Sleepless nights offered them only waves of pure musical joy.
There were many celebrities who enhanced the status of this instrument by their 'exemplary playing, like Mannargudi Pakkiri Pillai, Tirumarugal Natesa Pillai, Madurai Ponnusvami Pillai and T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai. In the recent past, two great nagaswara artistes dominated the musical scene of mastery and brilliance they reached the pinnacles of glory. They were, Namagiripettai K. Krishnan and Sheik Chinna Maulana Sahib.
1. Sheik Chinnamaulana
Accompanied by S. Kasim on Nagaswaram S. Subramanium M. Rajenderan and P.A. Kalia Murthy on Tavil
• Gyana Vinayakane
Raga: Gambhira Nattai
• Mamava Pattabhirama
Composer: Muthuswami Dikshitar
Composer: Muthuswami Dikshitar
Composer: Swati Thirunal
• Bhaja Bhaja Manasa
Raga: Sindhu Bhairavi
Composer: Swati Thirunal
Accompanied by S. Kasim on Nagaswaram Tavil-Senthamangalam-A. Manikanthan and Senthi Kumar
Composer: Saint Thyagaraja
• Amba Neelayatakshi
Composer: Muthuswamy Dilkhitar
2. Namagiripettai Krishnan
Accompanied by Namagiripettai K. Murugan on Nagaswaram Tavil-Senthamangalam-A. ManiKanthan and Alangudi K. Arumugam
• Athukarathani Balka Abhimanamulekapoye
Composer: Saint Thyagarja
• Mamavatu Sree Saraswathi
Composer: Mysore Vasudevachar
• Jo Tum chodo Piya
Raga: Sindu Bhairavi
Composer: Saint Meerabai